Early Friday morning on February 5th, Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote in the US Senate to advance a major budget initiative to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and lift America out of recession.
For frontline caregivers and working families, this is welcome news. We need this $1.9 trillion rescue plan to save lives and save jobs in Pennsylvania.
Healthcare workers are experiencing a quadruple crisis. We risk our own health and the wellbeing of our families every time we go to work in settings rife with COVID-19. We’re traumatized again and again as so many of the people we care for succumb to this disease. The skyrocketing fatality rates in long term care and the cancelled procedures in acute care settings, plus the economic chaos caused by the pandemic, have combined to cause job losses and even facility closure across healthcare. Because of institutional racism, the death toll and economic burden of COVID-19 falls most heavily on Black and brown working people.
In spite of all this, frontline caregivers have stepped up to care for our communities. In the face of a disease that has already killed more Americans than World War II, healthcare workers have been heroes. But so far, the response of the Federal government has been too little and too late to make much difference.
That changed today, thanks to the leadership of the Biden administration and healthcare champions like US Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
The COVID-19 action plan that moved out of the US Senate today includes a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks, a boost to the weekly Federal unemployment benefit to $400 through September, and hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to our states and local communities. This means that people in need will get help before they become destitute. What’s more, the Federal action to support state and local government will ensure that thousands of caregivers taking care of Pennsylvanians through the Commonwealth, public and private nursing homes, and homecare services will be able to stay on the job. That’s great news for caregivers and critical for the people we care for. This is a first step to building a better America. We are ready to hit the ground running on a recovery package that will build back better a more inclusive and stronger economy that works for all – including Senator Casey’s commitment to investing in our long term care system.
But as the US Senate conducted its early morning votes, some Senators threw up a road block to raising the Federal minimum wage during the pandemic. Direct care and healthcare service workers have not seen a minimum wage increase for over a decade. Essential workers, no matter what community they live in and no matter the color of their skin, all need a path out of poverty. Blocking higher wages for working people during this pandemic, while billionaires have gotten richer, now is not only immoral, it’s also bad economics. In the midst of this recession, we need families in our communities to have money to spend and increase demand for goods, services, and jobs.
Pennsylvania caregivers will turn up the heat on lawmakers to deliver on COVID-19 action that includes a $15 minimum wage. Without bold and decisive leadership now, recovery from the physical and economic devastation of COVID-19 will take too long. Healthcare workers and working families in Pennsylvania cannot wait.